Oral-History:George Brewster

About Interviewee

George Brewster is a retired manager of salary recruiting at Corning, Inc. A Fellow of the Society of Women Engineers, he joined SWE in the late 1970s because he understood the challenges women engineers faced at the time. He received the Society's Rodney Chipp Award in 1885 in recognition of his service to SWE and professional support of women engineers.

During his interview, Brewster speaks about the motivations that led him to become involved in the Society of Women Engineers, including discrimination his mother faced as one of few female postmasters in the 1940s. He explains his experience recruiting women engineering students for Corning, Inc., and the programs he and his colleagues implemented to improve the environment for women at that company. He also discusses his personal involvement in SWE and how the Society has evolved since the 1970s.

About the Interview

George Brewster: An interview conducted by Jane Daniels for the Society of Women Engineers, February 7, 2010.

Interview LOH002111.1at the Walter P. Reuther Library and Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University.

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It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

[Interviewee Name], interviewed by [Interviewer Name], Society of Women Engineers Grassroots Oral History Project, Walter P. Reuther Library and Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University, [Interview Date].

Interview

INTERVIEWEE: George Brewster
INTERVIEWER: Jane Daniels
DATE: 7 Febraury 2010
PLACE: Big Flats, New York

Joining the Society of Women Engineers

Jane Daniels: Today is Sunday, February the 7, 2010. This is an interview with George Brewster, who is retired from Corning, Inc. where he was manager of salaried recruiting. The interviewer is Jane Daniels and it’s being conducted as part of the Society of Women Engineers Grassroots Oral History Project. George is a member of the Twin Tiers Section and the interview is taking place in George’s home in Big Flats, New York. We’re going to discuss his thoughts about and his experiences in the Society of Women Engineers. Thanks for agreeing to do this, George.

George Brewster: My pleasure.

Daniels:

When did you first hear about the Society of Women Engineers?

Brewster:

Probably in 1977-1978 timeframe when I assumed the position of salaried recruiting at Corning Incorporated. A woman by the name of Jackie LaBarre⎯who was a Georgia Tech engineer who worked for Corning⎯came in and suggested to me and my boss, Ed O’Brien, that it might be useful for us to become members and understand what goes on in the Society of Women Engineers.

Daniels:

And when did you decide to join and what was the value you were looking for in the organization?

Brewster:

Well, Jackie suggested that it would be a good thing for us to become part of the Society, one through their annual convention. And so I sent Jackie off to the 1978 convention and she attended as a representative of Corning, came back and gave us an understanding of what it was about, who was there⎯both student and professional engineers⎯and when she came back then we decided that we would invest in the Society in both time and money, and the following year went to the convention in San Francisco in 1979 and that was Corning⎯at that time Corning Glass Works'⎯first appearance in the Society of Women Engineers. And we, at Jackie’s urging, we took about 13 women engineers from Corning with us to both man the booths and then spread out and go to some of the sessions and get a sense of what the professionalism was about, for both professional engineers like our own women, who work for us, and then for the benefit the students were gaining by going to the convention.

Daniels:

And what were some of your impressions from that first convention. Do you remember any specific things that stood out?

Brewster:

I guess the probably the first thing that stood out was⎯well, a couple of things. There was never a line in the men’s room (laughs). But the other thing that was just the seeing the volume of women in engineering when industry was talking about, "There aren’t women in engineering, women in engineering schools, small numbers, they don’t go." And then you go to a convention and you see a group of students from some of the large impressive engineering schools like Purdue, Georgia Tech, Cornell, and you find that there are a number of women in there. And you wonder, "Well, why didn’t industry in America know about that?"

Recruiting Women Engineering Students

Daniels:

Mm-hmm. Was it obvious to you right away, anything about the qualifications of these young women? Or did you already know, being in a recruiting position, about these engineering schools so it was just the female composition that you weren’t as familiar with?

Brewster:

Well, it was probably the female composition that were less familiar. I mean the schools’ engineering reputation pretty much preceded themselves because we had been⎯Corning had kind of an off-and-on relationship with college recruiting from the 60s on and if it was a good year and we were hiring people they’d go, and if it wasn’t then they wouldn’t go. So, we had no real presence on a college campus in that interim time. But what struck me most about the at the convention, the young women⎯they were bright young women, smart kids. They knew their engineering, could talk and, you know, carry on a conversation. More so than, generally, the male engineers could. They were⎯I had been around it, in terms of able to carry on a conversation, with multiple words as opposed to male engineers who⎯well, some studies have shown that engineers are introverted. There was a study done by the University of Arizona in terms of they’re introverted⎯not necessarily meaning that they aren’t excellent conversationalists, but they internalize a lot of their thought processes. Whereas what I found from the women engineers, they’re more extroverted and will talk about their processes while they’re solving it. They solve it orally as opposed to internally so⎯

Daniels:

Interesting.

Brewster:

⎯they make more, it’s more interesting having a conversation with them. You’re not pulling information out of them as you as you may be with male engineers.

Daniels:

Interesting. Had you been, had Corning or you personally been involved in any other organizations of engineers? Professional societies or anything like that or was this⎯?

Brewster:

I’m sure other people in Corning, particularly in our engineering, people with engineering degrees particularly, ASME and IEEE and so forth, the professional societies. But quite frankly, you know, I’m the typical person. I thought they used to drive trains. I’m an accountant (laughs) so I was not trained in engineering. Accounting happens to be the most specialized of the business degree disciplines. I was not heading into this convention or even into my job as an accountant coming in to recruit technical people for Corning Incorporated. It’s quite a challenge.

Daniels:

(laughs) I bet. So maybe the Society of Women Engineers kind of was your teething ring. You were getting to know engineers.

Brewster:

Everything else. Sure, sure it was.

Early Exposure to Professional Women's Rights Issues

Daniels:

Can you talk a little bit, I know over the years that I’ve known you, you’ve become very, very involved with the organization. So, if you can just share some memories or some experiences that stand out in your mind over the years.

Brewster:

I guess it was understanding the trials and tribulations that women face in the workplace. Very quick story: my mother was the one of two women Postmasters in the United States, appointed by [President] Roosevelt in 1940. And, at that time Postmasters were not Civil Service. They served at the whim of the presidency and I remember when the administration changed and President Eisenhower came in⎯not that he was responsible for it⎯but they wanted my mother’s position out and she ended up being a woman in a male dominated organization. And I can remember how she had to hire a lawyer to maintain her rights and literally save her job at that time. Of course, they’ve all gone Civil Service now so that that doesn’t happen anymore. But I remember that was my first experience of trials and tribulations women face in the workforce and how they were minimalized in a male-dominated place. My mother, again, it wasn’t⎯it took 10 years I think before there were half a dozen to a dozen women Postmasters in the United States. So, that was my first experience of it. So, in back in my head I think I had that understanding or empathy for the position that young women had in engineering.

Office Pranks Against Women Engineers

Brewster:

And, as I listened to some of the women talk about their trials and tribulations and that, one story sticks out in my mind particularly about a young woman engineer who actually worked for Corning. It was a summer intern and in the safety briefing that she got when she went to one of our manufacturing plants was, well, if hot glass got on her she was supposed to take all her clothes off standing under this torrent shower by one of our melting tanks and then run up the main corridor to the nurse’s office which is at the front of the building. You know, I mean, these are the things that, you know⎯I mean, it’s not⎯it’s funny but it’s not funny. Because I’m sure had that happened she probably would have done it, not knowing anything about it. I mean those are the things they were subjected to early on in my experience with it, being in engineering.

Over the years of my being involved in SWE I saw that evolve very much so through their advisory board, I saw women on the advisory board who were partner with me and end up being promoted to senior leadership roles in major corporations in the United States and so the at least they were starting to knock at the so-called glass ceiling at that point in time.

Improving the Environment at Corning

Daniels:

Did you see the corporations, like your own, having to make some major changes? I mean, you mentioned the safety thing. Certainly that brought to mind to the company that something needed to be done a little differently with that. But did you see a lot of that type of thing, that it really changed the way engineers worked in the company?

Brewster:

Well, in my company, and I think in every company, you have to have an advocate, okay, for change. And, in my company, it happened to be the young woman who introduced me to SWE and so forth, Jackie. And Jackie had the scars on her body of the things that she advocated that weren’t part of the support structure, I think for either male or female at this point in time. But some of the things, you know, like day care and what do you do about child care or leave and so forth, and the things that went on that were kind of foreign to a male-dominated population but are very necessary to have a supportive environment for women. And so I think as in my colleagues' and other manufacturing industries, too, started to realize that they had to make changes in their workplace environment in policies and procedures that accommodated women, particularly in child-bearing years and so forth. And be part of it or you’re going to lose a valuable employee that you spent three or four years training, and now because she is pregnant with child, if you don’t accommodate that, you know, well, you’re going to lose that person. You’re going to lose that investment.

Daniels:

Yeah. Did you have to become a champion for, on behalf of the women with the company, because you understood some of these issues a little bit more?

Brewster:

Yeah, yeah I did. I mean, I think it was important that we have, we had a professional organization so I helped establish the Twin Tiers chapter of the Society of Women Engineers. I'm trying to remember when we started that because I think that was an important support group so that all of the women engineers within Corning could have some form of a network⎯have a network and a way to get some sharing. What I found was that when our women went off to either a regional conference or the national convention and came back, they were really empowered. They were energized. They had met other women out there. They weren’t the only one that was alone in the workplace, suffering alone in terms of that. And the same thing, I think, held true even at the local level and the local chapters. You may be, might be a woman in an engineering department or in the manufacturing plant and you might be the only woman in engineering out there, but when you came back to a monthly meeting with the rest of your women colleagues from around the area, then you get a chance to do that.

And also, as we became better known, while our chapter was dominated by Corning Incorporated women, we started to get women from other corporations who, they may have been the only woman there. And so joining Twin Tiers, they were able to do that. Many of those people had to do it on their own, too, because their companies weren’t supportive of dues and paying and so forth, and that’s one of the things, another thing that we helped get in from there.

The other thing that also I think when talking about the changes that we made is, we started an internal education program around women in the workplace, and not only how you support it but the penalties for what you don’t. We used to have a⎯we had a tag team in there that we used to call the offensive and defensive team. One was a woman by the name of Marie McKee [phonetic] who was director of women engineering programs at Purdue who we hired to help us understand better the women issues in the workplace. And then another colleague of ours that was a dual-career couple⎯and again that was a term that was new in the early 80s, a dual-career couple⎯they were both lawyers. And Linda Sartin [phonetic] was our, what we called the offensive person that would, "Here are the laws, bang, bang, bang. Here’s what happens if you don’t. Here’s the money it would cost Corning if you’re hit with a suit," and so forth. Linda would go the offensive piece and then Marie would come right behind her and tell her how we could accommodate and develop programs so we didn’t face the monetary pieces of that. And I think that was another start that again helped educate Corning and Corning managers and the male section of Corning Incorporated, the Glass Works at that time, of how to behave and what the proper behavior was and what the proper accommodation levels were.

Improving the Envronment in Industry

Daniels:

I know you were in other professional organizations around human resources issues. Did you see similar kinds of changes taking place at other companies, or was Corning pretty much out in front of the pack on these issues?

Brewster:

Uh, I wouldn’t say we were out in front of the pack. I mean, I think there were some other companies that are, that come to name, that come to mind if you talk about them in this Linda Sartin Procter and Gamble, IBM, 3M Corporation kind of jump out at me as members of the people that were always there. And those are the people that you would see represented on corporate advisory boards, on both in SWE, the Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Hispanic Engineers and American Indian Science⎯AISES, American Indian Science and Engineering Society. And those companies consistently, you would see those names consistently as part of them supporting those organizations.

And then I think, again, I think nothing [in] industry is sacred and that when some of this gets up to your chief executive offices when they meet in their groups, okay, then they talk about what they’re doing and unique things that they’re doing in the industry. And all of a sudden you have your CEO coming back to your company saying, “Well what are we doing about women in engineering? What are we doing about Native Americans?” and so forth. And you know, “Because IBM’s doing this, Corning’s doing this,” and it was kind of, you know, an expansion. The networking function that, you know, is no secret. You know, no reason you can’t steal a good idea.

Improving the Environment at Corning

Daniels:

Did you feel⎯you were talking about that offensive and defensive punch that you would use in the training and education of your employees. Did you see some real changes come about in the workplace environment after that, or in those years?

Brewster:

Not radical change, but change. Slowly, but surely. Generationally you had⎯you know, without belittling my white brothers and so forth⎯but at a certain age, you know, your beliefs are, you’re rooted in bronze, okay? And that generation thought about women and men working together and/or traveling together was, “Oh my God, that’s awful. You know we can’t do that.” And I can remember that being very true in the 80s in Corning. You could hear that from wives and so forth of my colleagues. Slowly but surely that changed as your population of your generation got younger. The young men coming out of engineering school, as the Society of Women Engineers had grown and done their work on their campuses and made their awareness in that class. So you had a whole different generation of people coming along that were much more accommodating than was the white male who was educated in the 50s and 60s and early 70s.

Daniels:

So that idea of critical mass really did make a difference⎯

Brewster:

Yes.

Daniels:

⎯as a lot of women⎯

Brewster:

Sure.

Daniels:

⎯coming through the work force.

College Recruiting

Daniels:

Anything else about your corporate experience before we talk a little bit about your SWE experience? Anything else that comes to mind that I haven’t asked about?

Brewster:

Well, one of the things that is tough to do in the corporate environment is maintaining programs in times of, when times are tough.

Daniels:

Mm-hmm.

Brewster:

The ability to be consistent, and you can’t disappear in the groups that we’re talking about, in women in engineering. The half-life of a student is two years and by and large your freshman and sophomores don’t even start to think about interns and so forth until maybe their sophomore⎯after they’re through their sophomore year. And by that time they probably missed the opportunity to get an internship anyways. So you have to maintain that presence. And if you lose a couple of years, you’re nobody on campus again and you've got to start the process all over.

What I found in the more successful companies, and mine included, was I was allowed to at least maintain a presence, a marketing presence, go tell the story that, "Hey, we’re having a down year." We do career fairs, we go to the campus and we say, "Well, we never know what’s going on. We’re not hiring permanent employees this year. A lot can change between now and October, between October and June when the interns hit. And we’ll take your resume for an internship and, if the budget breaks in the first of the year, then we’ll do that. But no promises for that. But here’s what we do and here’s what we’ve done."

So, you’re telling the story and you’re maintaining the presence, and I think that’s critical when you’re dealing with a group of people that are not enormously large in terms of the population of universities. And it helps your position in all phases of recruiting in the engineering campuses. Not just women, but maintaining a presence and that, that was the thing that I respected most about Corning. That they did allow me to do that instead of abolishing the recruiting or taking all the recruiting people and having them do something else.

Differences Women Engineers Bring to the Workplace

Daniels:

It occurred to me while you were talking about that, a question I didn’t ask⎯as you saw more women come in, students first and then as professional engineers and working, did their presence change the technical operation of the company? Or did they do everything just like the male engineers used to do it?

Brewster:

You know, that’s⎯a little bit did. I’m not sure I’m the right person to answer that question because I’m not out there in the technical operations. I think⎯my opinion is that I think they brought a different set of, a different⎯I don’t know what, I want to say "agenda" but that’s not, that sounds like it’s too harsh. But a different thought process to approach a problem, okay. In terms of⎯I think, I’m not sure I have any evidence of this, but I think men and women are wired a little differently. I think women are basically much more on the what I would call the softer side of HR, okay. Much more open to do it and not focused on a tunnel vision, you know. They’re more open to change and I think with that background or that quality they have, that it then transferred itself into the project-solving areas of wherever they worked, both in manufacturing and so forth.

Growth of SWE Since the 1970s

Daniels:

Okay. Thank you. Getting back to your involvement in SWE and some of the changes you saw in the organization, you and I have been active in the organization almost identical periods of time. I went to my first conference at San Francisco as well [1979]. It’s a long time ago. And what kinds of things have you seen as far as changes in the organization, people in the organization, leadership? Talk a little bit about that.

Brewster:

Yeah. Well, the growth of the organization has been of course one of the things that my miniscule contribution in the Society⎯I always feel I was death against the summer convention. From a recruiting standpoint, you went to a very large career fair⎯and we all supported it⎯but the trouble was the seniors had already made their job selections and/or they weren’t even there because they’d gone to their new positions. And I tried for a number of years to get them to consider doing a fall season because college recruiting from all the good companies happens in the fall. The best and the brightest are there in the fall, you might not see them in the spring. And so the same thing was true at SWE.

And so I’m delighted, and I think SWE is too, because I think they financially have been delighted with the success of moving the conference to the fall. And a lot of⎯early on it did get naysayers, said “Oh no, the kids are in school, they won’t come,” and so forth. And I think to their amazement it has turned out well. And I think, I guess I gotta thank my friend Ruthann Omer who was the president at that time, that drove that change to make that happen. And I know the revenue from the conference has gone up. So that’s one of the things that I’ve seen grown, because it was always a struggle. I mean, finances are always a struggle in a non-profit organization, and that was a struggle at the time.

And if you look at a Society that evolved from an executive secretary role to now⎯we’ve got an executive director, a funding director, solid board of people. We’ve streamlined the organization from, everyone can get on the floor and have a say back in the old days at the Council of Section Representatives meetings. Not all those changes are popular with some of our more senior members, but I think it’s an organization that is sleek and ready to grow and continue to grow at this point in time.

Encouraging More Women To Enter Engineering

Brewster:

And to that extent I guess the disappointment I have is, you know, I’ve been out of the game now for ten years, so to speak, at least professionally in the recruiting business. So I don’t see all the numbers that I see, but it’s kind of like we’ve hit a platform⎯a plateau, not a platform⎯a plateau in women in engineering that we can’t kind of make that next great leap of another 10% from like the 20s [percent range] up into the 30s [percent range]. We had great growth in the 80s [1980s] and that has plateaued off. Retention numbers are going up but, again, we’re still having to say, "If they don’t come in the front door you can’t retain them to begin with."

Daniels:

Right.

Brewster:

We still have that issue, I think, down in the high school level where, you know, that it’s not viewed as something that women do, in spite of the accomplishments that we’ve had over the course of time.

Daniels:

I know, not being an engineer, this may not be applicable to you, but have you seen the organization, particularly your local section, do a lot more in outreach to try and make a difference with those young women?

Brewster:

Yeah. They have, at least our local section has an active program in terms of one scholarship program which, it’s out to all the⎯it started out small, with just the two schools in the Corning Painted Post School District. And now they have funding as such that they are able to reach within⎯I think SWE section chapters are governed by zip code zones, and so forth⎯so we’ve actually reached out over the borders of Pennsylvania and the Twin Tiers, and out up into Ithaca and so forth. And so it’s a broader reach, and I think that exposure has given us a greater challenge. I happen to go to the scholarship banquet every year, and attend and watch where the women are going to school, and the young girls that are coming out from high school and so forth. And it’s really a challenge and fun to see them come and grow and go on like that. But, I’m not sure that it’s⎯more is needed I think in that area and I don’t, I’m not sure I know how to attack that. I don’t have a good idea to do that.

Corning's Sponsorship of SWE

Daniels:

There are some exciting things going on and you and I can talk a little about that after the interview, because I see another possibility for a big growth coming up. Tell me a little bit⎯you’ve done lots of things with the organization. The corporate presence in SWE seems to have grown a lot over the years and I know you were very involved in that. You’ve become a life member. You won the Rodney Chipp Award, which I’d like you to talk about a little bit, because I’m sure I don’t know as much about what the award recognizes. And then you’re a Fellow in the Society, which certainly shows your long-term commitment and value to the organization. So, talk to me a little about your own activity in SWE.

Brewster:

Well, I think I related the story to you about the trials and tribulations my mother has had as a woman working in a non-traditional job in a non-traditional occupation, in an underrepresented population. So that was kind of the thing that allowed my empathy to get there. But as I came into it, again, it was kind of a building blocks step. You know, you saw something that needed to be done, okay? Well, Corning, we got Corning involved and got the support we needed to do that, then we⎯well, then you needed something for the new women engineers to hear so we chartered a chapter [of the Society of Women Engineers], and I was part of the charter, a charter member in that organization. I think you had to have 25 people, at that point in time, I think, to start a chapter. And so we struggled to get that done and so forth and watched that grow.

Daniels:

How many members now? Approximately?

Brewster:

Uh, close to a hundred I believe, yeah.

Daniels:

Terrific.

Brewster:

Yeah, that comes⎯sometimes it comes and goes with the fortunes of the economic area, too.

Daniels:

Maybe you were going to get to this, but when you were talking about the company involvement, I know that you’re very involved with the Achievement Award recipient and the Corning bowl and everything. And I think with the student sections Corning has taken on some certain awards to sponsor. Why don’t you talk a little about that involvement and what Corning, I’m sure with your encouragement, has gotten involved with?

Brewster:

Okay, I’m trying to think about the student awards.

Daniels:

Weren’t they career, career guidance awards or, I forget the name of them.

Brewster:

Ah, yes, yeah, yeah. That was, it was an award for the student chapters to have the best career guidance outreach program.

Daniels:

Okay.

Brewster:

And it was an outreach program that⎯what did they do to encourage young high school women to view engineering as a challenge and so forth? And it's always been part of the SWE student sections charter to have this outreach. And a couple of us at Corning thought that, well, we need to⎯we came with the bowl and the Achievement Award, and the Steuben Bowl and that’s been the tradition that’s gone on, and has continued to go on even after I’ve retired. We all wanted something to also get some recognition for Corning, and in an area that is important, and so then we came up with cash awards for the student chapters. I’m not sure⎯I think it was a $150, $50, and $25, I think maybe starting with it. And $250, $150, $100. I think it was $500 [total] for each award. And it was to the best program, and innovative program. It was for innovation in a new program and so forth in the outreach area. And the award had to be⎯the cash had to be used to create or continue, it would have to be invested in the program itself to continue the outreach. And so that was, that was part of it.

The other thing that again I’m proud of, and the section’s proud of, one of the things we started when I received the Rodney Chipp Award⎯it was a thousand dollar stipend that came with it, and I put that into a fund here in the local high school areas for Corning East and West, for a scholarship for a young woman entering math and science and engineering. And, of course school districts tend to invest very conservatively, so a thousand dollars at 2 percent a year doesn’t even buy a book, didn’t even buy a book in those days. And now it probably wouldn’t even buy the pencils that you need to sharpen. So we started, had the idea, "Well we can do a golf tournament." So we started the SWE scholarship golf tournament [SWE Twin Tiers Golf Tournament], and it then started to raise ten, twelve thousand dollars a year. So that’s how we were able to expand our scholarship program to better ways to encourage and reward young women going into it, so that the scholarships now, I think, are up to two thousand dollars apiece.

Daniels:

Terrific.

Brewster:

We’ll award up to five or six per year depending on the applicants and (inaudible) and their submissions and their selections.

Daniels:

You’ve already talked in the interview about your understanding of women’s issues thanks to your mother’s non-traditional position, and I think the scholarship’s named after her, isn’t it?

Brewster:

Yeah, it is the Margaret R. Brewster Scholarship for Women in Engineering.

Daniels:

Great.

Brewster:

Yeah.

Rodney D. Chipp Award

Daniels:

What else about that Rodney Chipp Award⎯I know pretty early in the Society they started giving that award, didn’t they, to male members?

Brewster:

I think, well I think first it was Lillian Gilbreth’s husband. [Ed. note: Rodney Chipp Award is named after husband of Beatrice Hicks, first SWE president]

Daniels:

Ah.

Brewster:

I think so. I believe. I’d have to go back and look at my⎯

Daniels:

Yeah, I just came out of the archives and I should know that, (laughs) and I don’t.

Brewster:

I guess what I remember about the Rodney Chipp Award before it was even thought of me⎯I remember Don Naismith, who’s at the University of North Dakota, he’s a mechanical engineering professor, and his student chapter at North Dakota nominated him. And I remember vividly the things that he did with the school and⎯my knowledge of how conservative engineering schools were to change, I was kind of blown away by the things he accomplished up there with his student chapter. And he was the first person I ever met that had won the award because he was still going, he was still advising the student chapter and I would see him at the conventions and so forth. And, you know I thought that’s really pretty super and then I was honored when my chapter, a few years later, nominated me. And I think at that time there had only been 6 or 7 of us nominated, I think. It was a small number. I don’t think they had gotten to 10 at that point in time. So it was a surprise and a real great honor for me to do that. As was becoming a Fellow.

Daniels:

Yeah. I know that⎯oh, let me get back to the Rodney Chipp, just one question. And I know it’s hard to get you to brag a little bit, but do you remember what the citation was or how they recognized your⎯why you received the award?

Brewster:

For supporting⎯you know I don’t think I can remember the⎯I think it’s on my clock upstairs in my office. I could go read it. It was for supporting women in engineering, starting some, you know, groundbreaking programs like the new chapter, reaching out to college students, being an individual⎯you know, if you’ve got an issue I’m willing to⎯call me, talk to me, that type of thing. And also in my local chapter, I think all the women that in the engineering field had felt that they needed some advice and so forth about how to do deal with issues that they were having in the work force from a male perspective felt very comfortable in coming in and talking to me and knowing that I’d listen and try to do what I could to help them succeed.

Becoming a SWE Fellow

Daniels:

Great. Thanks. I knew I’d get you to say a few words, anyway. And you said the Fellow was really meaningful to you, and how many years ago was that and when did that happen?

Brewster:

It actually happened the year I retired.

Daniels:

Okay.

Brewster:

It was in Detroit [2002 annual conference]. I remember things by what cities things were in, you know how your memory works. But it was in Detroit. I had retired, and of course the trip wasn’t going to be funded by Corning. Eventually it did. One of my colleagues said, “No, we'll pay for your trip, don’t worry about it.” But it was just the honor of being there at the banquet and having the poster, standing next to your poster and so forth. And I think maybe I was the second male that was a Fellow.

Daniels:

I wouldn’t be surprised.

Brewster:

At least at that time. So it was really kind of an honor that I was nominated because that was⎯I think Fellow is more⎯you’re nominated by senior members, whether a chapter does it or not, I don’t remember the process or not, or whether anyone in the Society can do it. I think it was just a group of people that got together and put it all together and so forth.

Daniels:

I’m sure it wouldn’t have been hard to find any group of people in the Society, from any state, that knew you and what you had all done for the organization and your commitment to the whole concept. I have one last question but, before I get to that, is there anything you can think of that we haven’t talked about your involvement in the Society?

Contributions to SWE

Brewster:

[pause] I think, you know, what little I contributed to kind of the business side of the organization, in trying to help them manage the Society more like a business and have some goals and objectives. And of course I wasn’t on boards or anything at that⎯although one time I was CSR (Council of Section Representatives) rep for my chapter.

Daniels:

Ah-hah.

Brewster:

That was kind of unusual, too. There was never a line in the men’s room at that meeting, either. (laughs) The fact that it did get organized and a national office was established and then moved from New York to Chicago, which I think has been very successful. And, you know, the selection process and the way that the organization goes about selecting their executive directors and the people that they’re hiring now. I think, you know, I’m glad that I had a little piece of that in terms of the growth of the organization. Just even looking at the magazine. If you look at the magazine, the magazine was always very nice, but now the professionalism on it and the support that it gets is really terrific.

Future for Women in Engineering

Daniels:

The last question is just kind of for you to dream a little bit about the future and about the Society itself, and women engineers in general. And it occurred to me when you were talking about, you know, there hasn’t been a growth spurt for a long time now, more than 20 years probably, and how that outreach to the young people is certainly an area in the future but has to be solved to some better extent. What else do you see about the future of women in engineering?

Brewster:

Well I think, I think if you looked at some of the awards that you⎯the Distinguished New Engineer Award, the Upward Mobility Award, some of the awards you get in there you see the caliber of women that are receiving these awards. I see you’re starting to see a growth across leadership roles in corporations and organizations, non-profit and so forth. I think you’re also seeing the professional societies’ growth in terms of the role models in the engineering schools, both at the professor level and the deans of engineering. I remember the days when it was, kind of, Eleanor Baum⎯

Daniels:

(laughing) That was the only one for a long time.

Brewster:

And all the rest of her white male colleagues that used to meet at the deans' council. But, those I think are the hopeful signs. And as the larger crop of the [women who studied engineering in the] 80s is now in their mid-career, I think you’re going to start to see those young women come up in leadership roles and broaden across the company. Then there are more role models, more visibility that I think will help try to⎯whatever we need to do to encourage to get this growth spurt that we talk about. I think that’s the real positive sign that I see in the in the Society and so forth.

Daniels:

Great. Any last thoughts?

Brewster:

No, it was a pleasure doing this. Made me start to think about some things I hadn’t thought about for a long time.

Daniels:

Well, we sure appreciate you doing that. So this interview was with George Brewster. It’s Sunday, February the 7th, 2010, and we’re in George’s home in Big Flats, New York. Thank you.

END OF INTERVIEW